Susan LaFlesche Picotte was born June 17, 1865 to Chief Joseph LaFalce (Iron Eye) and Mary (One Woman) on the Omaha Indian Reservation near Macy, Nebraska. Her father was the last recognized chief of the Omaha Indian tribe. Both of her parents were of Native American and French ancestry.
At the age of fourteen, influenced by her father’s admonition of higher education for his tribal members, Picotte attended the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in New Jersey. She returned home at the age of seventeen and taught at a Quaker Mission School on the reservation.
While teaching there, Picotte nursed an ill ethnologist, Alice Fletcher, back to health. Fletcher urged Picotte to pursue further education and get a medical degree. Picotte returned east and enrolled in Hampton Institute.
Martha Waldron, a resident physician at Hampton, encouraged Picotte to apply to the Women’s Medical Collage of Pennsylvania, where she, herself, had also graduated. Fletcher helped to secure scholarship funds for Picotte from the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs.
Picotte graduated in 1889 at the top of her class within two years of attending a three-year program. She was the first woman to receive federal aid for education and the first Native American woman to receive a medical degree. After a one-year internship in Philadelphia, she returned to the reservation to provide health care to the Omaha people at the government boarding school.
After marrying Henry Picotte in 1894, the couple moved to Bancroft, Nebraska. Picotte set up a private practice there and attended to patients, regardless of race.
Picotte was one of the founders of the Thurston County Medical Association and a county health officer, as well as a member of the State Medical Association. She lobbied on the state level for better public health laws and lectured in favor of temperance.
Picotte was a devoted spokesperson for the good of the Omaha people, cooperating with Indian agencies and often challenging government bureaucracy to enhance the economic, social and spiritual advancement of Native Americans.
With her husband’s death in 1905, Picotte became a stronger advocate of temperance. A year after his death, Picotte led a delegation to D.C. to lobby for prohibition of alcohol on the reservation. Picotte’s actions prompted legislation to prohibit alcohol sales for every property deed on the Omaha reservation.
Picotte lived to see a dream come true. Two years prior to her death, she opened a hospital in Walthill, Nebraska. The hospital was built with grant and donation money. After Picotte’s death, September 18, 1915 at the age of fifty, the hospital was named in her honor. In her lifetime, Picotte tended to somewhere near 1300 patients of varying races.
The hospital was restored and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. It now displays documentation of the work of Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte along with the history of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes. A portion of the building is also used for the Sacred Child Center, an organization that works with troubled youth.